By Douglas Barrie


THE other day I was talking to a couple of friends about Spanish football, and we got onto talking about Barcelona.

I started making the points that I usually do when talking about Barca (if you follow me on Twitter you’ll know what’s coming): how Barcelona need to buy a centre-back or two, how 3-4-3 doesn’t work because it’s not the Barca way, how signing a better back up keeper might scare Victor Valdes into a bit of form.  You know, the usual.

I argued that this El Clasico would be Tito’s biggest test yet after his Catalan side lost on away goals to Real in the summers Super Copa.  At this point, a friend halted the conversation.

Mourinho and Vilanova ahead of the Super Copa in August

“Who?” he asked.

“Tito Vilanova.” I replied, adding the Vilanova in case he thought I was suggesting that Tito of Jackson 5 fame had made a sudden career change.

“Oh, the new guy?” was his response.  Just a few days into October and the manager of one of the world’s biggest clubs was still an unknown in the eyes of some football fans.

As well as providing the biggest test, this El Clasico also managed to provide Tito (Vilanova) with a platform for worldwide recognition if he could get a result against Barca’s bitter rivals.

It would also give him recognition to the form Barcelona have been in during his reign so far: ten games, nine wins, and 100% league form (before El Clasico) with 18 points from six games compared to Madrid’s 10 from six.

Tactically he’s not very different from Pep Guardiola.  But because of injuries he was forced to change his hand even more and this is where the Barca defence issue becomes an issue.

The talk before the game was who would Tito play and where, and whether he would opt for a 3-4-3 formation given that Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique were both out injured.  Adriano’s inclusion was a bit of a surprise, and the only surprise in the tactics from both managers.

Messi and Ronaldo both rose to the occasion

With so little change and surprise, both sides knew what to expect from their counterparts.  But Tito had to change his hand again when Cristiano Ronaldo squeezed the opener in front of Valdes’ near post.  Dani Alves should have done far better, and maybe his substitution was indeed tactical and not due to what looked like an injury.

I’d like to have seen Marc Bartra come on with Adriano moving out to the right rather than Martin Montoya coming on in a like-for-like swap; and maybe Tito was thinking the same when Adriano failed to track back for Ronaldo’s second.  Or when Montoya rattled the crossbar in the dying moments of the game.

Jose Mourinho on the other hand can’t be as angry at his defence for losing the two goals, even if they are his regular starters.  Only someone as quick as Lionel Messi (or Ronaldo) could have latched onto the pinball that bobbed about the Real defenders to get the equaliser, and none of them could have stopped his world class free-kick.

Nobody can really moan about the referee either.  Both penalty shouts were called right I think.  Mesut Ozil backed into Javier Mascherano more than the opposite and Andres Iniesta was a little theatrical in his fall when challenged.

It was a more tepid affair as opposed to the controversial encounters we’ve experienced in the past, and there was the added extra for both sides that they both finished with 11 men on the park.

This was an in form Barcelona being halted in their tracks by a very good Real Madrid side who themselves have been struggling for form of late.  But it wasn’t a game that Barcelona deserved to lose.

The next El Clasico of La Liga is March 3rd 2013.  It’s a sure bet that by then Tito Vilanova will be one of the more recognisable faces in football.